Chances Are You Have Seen Places That Offer Payday Loans

Chances are you have seen places that offer payday loans in your town. Payday loans are short-term loans designed for people that run out of money before payday, but can repay the loan when their paycheck arrives. Advance America is the leading payday loan company in the United States. It includes 3,000 centers in 37 states, and employs nearly 7,000 people, according to its Web site. Advance America is big, and growing bigger every day. Its growth in recent years is straining the capabilities of its client-server information system infrastructure and holding the company back from further growth. Advance America used a system in which each center was equipped with an independent hardware and software environment. Installation and maintenance costs were high, and compiling data for all centers was time consuming and difficult. Each night the thousands of centers would upload their data to the main server for consolidation. With the growing number of centers, there wasn’t enough time in the night to process all of the incoming data. Advance America’s system had run up against a wall. It was time for a change. Advance America decided to invest in a new system based on a grid computing architecture. They installed thin client machines to run in each center, connecting via the Web to a fault-tolerant server cluster running Oracle database software. The server cluster consists of a four-node cluster of IBM P5 series servers, which include four processors per node for a total of 16 processors. The servers in the cluster work as a grid by sharing the work load of the entire organization equally among them. A pair of Cisco load balancers make sure that processing is distributed evenly among the servers for maximum performance. The new system includes a 2 TB storage area network (SAN) that uses an IBM disk array controlled by the Oracle Automatic Storage Management (ASM) software. System IT managers at headquarters use a central grid-management console to oversee the entire nationwide network. Problems are easily identified and fixed through the centrally managed system. So far, the system has provided 100 percent uptime at the cash-advance centers. Advance America took a chance with its $3.8 million investment in this new technology, but it has paid off. Center managers can now tap into “a continuously updated central database and generate reports in near real time.” The new system has decreased the time it takes to open a new Advance America center. Managers are getting information much more quickly, making it easier for them to analyze business performance and customer trends. The new system is also easy to expand as the business grows. It is estimated that the new system will provide total net benefits of almost $3 million over five years for an ROI of 131 percent.
Discussion Questions
1. How does grid computing provide Advance America managers with faster access to data?
2. How did grid computing assist Advance America in breaking through the wall that held it back from growth?
Critical Thinking Questions
1. Why is the new grid computing system at Advance America much easier to install, manage, and maintain than its old system?

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